Chelsea’s youth team like their 4-0 cup scorelines. For the third time this campaign, Dermot Drummy’s young charged put an opponent to the sword to the tune of four unanswered goals, and on this occasion recorded a 5-0 aggregate victory over Semi Final opponents Blackburn to progress to the Final for the second time in three years.
Both teams went into Monday night’s return leg unchanged, after Michael Potts and Kaby both learned their red cards for violent conduct at Ewood Park would not result in suspensions until seven days had passed. After a tight, hard-fought match last Wednesday with just one goal to seperate the sides, you might have expected a similar outing at Stamford Bridge, but under a rain which had been steadily falling all afternoon, the decent if not healthy crowd in attendance were treated to an open game played at an enjoyable tempo.
After seeing a lot of ball last week, Gokhan Tore was once again involved early and often, as the Blues looked to exploit what they believed to be a favourable matchup against Jackson Ramm. Kaby was busy in the middle of the park and Aziz Deen-Conteh looked to weight in with support from deep as Chelsea got an early hold on proceedings. The Turkish international winger had the first notable effort of the night, sizing up a fierce long-range effort which kept low, and was heading into the bottom corner until Josh Swann got down well to divert it away to safety.
At the other end, Sam Walker’s first save was less notable, clutching a looping header out of the air, and he wasn’t to have much more to do all evening. Back at the Shed End, Jeffrey Bruma was presented with the evening’s first clear-cut opportunity from Sala’s corner, but despite being unmarked, his header lacked conviction and was a routine stop for Swann.
The game was rather stretched and end-to-end, with both teams looking to open the play out to their wingers. Whilst Gokhan and Sala were getting shots away, Banton and Evans found times much tougher as Billy Clifford and Deen-Conteh put up better resistance. When the opening goal arrived after half an hour, it was no surprise that it fell to Chelsea, but they were given a huge nudge in the right direction thanks to goalkeeper Swann.
Bruma came forward and opted to shoot from a ridiculous 45 yards out, and rather expectedly didn’t quite catch hold of it. The ball skidded towards Swann, but appeared to be going wide. Beyond anybody’s comprehension, he tried to play the ball with his feet, and got a heavy touch which rebounded to Marko Mitrovic. Gratefully, the Swedish forward gobbled up the opportunity and tapped into the open goal.
If the first was Swann’s fault, he could hardly have done more to prevent the back-breaking second four minutes later. Mitrovic played McEachran in on the edge of the area, and his was a fierce, swerving effort destined for the top corner. The Blackburn goalkeeper got across well and made a wonderful save, but could only turn it towards the unmarked Sala. With no defenders in proximity, the Italian was able to send the rebound back at goal and extend the lead on the evening, and give Chelsea a 3-0 aggregate lead. If it wasn’t yet unassailable, it left Rovers much to do.
The goal signalled the departure of captain Conor Clifford, who walked off with a slight limp. After picking up knocks in the first leg, he didn’t quite seem 100% and in the interests of precaution, he was replaced by Milan Lalkovic. Bruma took over the captaincy, whilst Sala dropped deeper into midfield to maintain the team’s shape. It took the Slovakian mere minutes to make an impact, beating his man and delivering a gloriously crisp cross which deserved an end product, but instead evaded everybody on its way across the area.
With Chelsea tails up, the ball was moving with accuracy and zip, which in turn led to Blackburn frustration. Tom Hitchcock found his way into the referee’s notebook for a crude tackle from behind on Deen-Conteh to sum up their annoyances, and half time arrived to allow them to cool off, and contemplate how they were to score four in the second half. For Chelsea, it was more a case of maintaining the status quo and not becoming complacent.
Not that there was a risk of that. Whilst Gary Bowyer’s side came out with an added enthusiasm and energy, they lacked guile and creativity and most forays forward were mopped up by the impressive Mills Pappoe and the comfortable Bruma. Sala was doing a good job in a deeper role than usual, and as Blackburn committed further forwards, they opened themselves up to the risk of the counter attack. Kaby shot wide under encouragement from the crowd, whilst Mills Pappoe was booked for following through on Anthony O’Connor, who didn’t take the offer of a conciliatory handshake well.
He wasn’t to be the last to have his name taken. Ramm followed him, having a torrid night against Chelsea wingers, now facing Lalkovic and upending him. With heads dropping, more home goals were almost inevitable, and the goal of the night arrived twenty minutes from time to put the seal on things. Gokhan came inside from the right and looked for an opening, but with nothing available, he laid the ball off to McEachran. A quick return later and the winger had carried his run on into the middle, and took a touch before beating Swann into the bottom corner. It was a fantastically worked goal from a player who deserved his name on the scoresheet.
With the game and tie in the bag, the defenders still had a personal pride in wanting to keep a clean sheet, and Walker made his best save of the night, getting down well to a tricky low shot from Grant Hanley. Chelsea have only conceded once en route to the Final, and that came in stoppage time at Charlton with the aid of a big deflection. Five consecutive shutouts later, and they look impregnable.
Potts was the next to be cautioned for a late tackle on Kaby, but no handbags followed, with the competitive edge long since lost. The cherry was put on top of this very impressive cake on 78 minutes when Gokhan broke clear on the halfway line, drove into the area and unselfishly squared to give Sala a tap in with Swann stranded between the two. With his second of the night and fourth in four games, he took off in delighted celebration with the youngsters in the crowd, taking every opportunity to indulge in the night’s fun.
Ben Sampayo and Rohan Ince got late run-outs for Gokhan and Kaby, who both got deserved standing ovations, whilst Bruma and Mitrovic both went close to making it a round five. In the end, four was more than enough and celebrations greeted the full time whistle. Whilst the big one is still to come, the team took the time to soak up the adulation of the crowd and sign some autographs, and it will go down as a memorable night, and indeed, a memorable performance.
Now it’s time to go one better and win the FA Youth Cup.
Team: Walker, B.Clifford, Mills Pappoe, Bruma, Deen Conteh, C.Clifford (c) (Lalkovic 35), Kaby (Ince 85), McEachran, Sala, Gokhan Tore (Sampayo 79)
Goals: Mitrovic ’30, Sala ’34, ’78, Gokhan Tore ’70
Booked: Mills Pappoe
Blackburn: Swann, Ramm, Morris, Hanley, O’Connor, Potts (Pearson 73), Evans (Osawe 64), Bowen, Lowe, Banton, Hitchcock (Rustemaj 85)
Booked: Ramm, Potts, Hitchcock
Dan Davies’ pictures from the game can be viewed here. Don’t forget, you can follow him on Twitter @DD_Photo, and keep abreast of Chelsea’s youth and reserve teams @chelseayouth.